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Circus of Horrors: Ventriloquist, at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, Essex 11 Jan 2012 Review: Jennie Gillions

Cabaret show The Circus of Horrors arrived on stage with a bang - literally - and for the next 90 minutes treated an appreciative audience to a real spectacle.

Circus of horrors

There is no doubt that the sets and costumes are as important as the performances in a show like this; Asia Sawicka and her team of costumers did a great job of dressing the acts, male as well as female. Ringmaster Doktor Haze wore a suitably outlandish velvet frock coat. The male gymnasts started the performance in shorts and braces with their muscles on show, changing in the second act into skeleton costumes that glowed in the dark, for a fun gymnastic routine. The band, playing a mixture of rock, pop and sinister tunes, wore military-influenced black and red outfits. The women, unsurprisingly, wore very little, spending the majority of the time in corsets, stockings and heeled boots.

Circus of horrors

One of the most breath-taking performances came from a male acrobat whose first solo act required him to wear only a pair of small pants. Starting off in a bath he breezed through an array of beautiful tricks on hanging nets. In the second act, wearing a shirt and khaki shorts, he flew around on a rope swing; we knew what was coming when he wrapped the rope around his ankles but we still held our breath as he launched himself forward and swung full-length upside-down.

The contortionist, 17 year old Birmingham girl Cristina Garcia, was one of the most gorgeous things I've ever seen. Her burlesque bikini showed off her muscular figure to its full advantage as she bent herself into crazy positions - twisting her torso the wrong way round, smoking with her feet while her legs were bent over her head, and firing a bow and arrow with her toes during a handstand.

Circus of horrors

We felt a bit sorry for the pole dancer who performed at the same time. She looked good, she was good and we figured she was playing it safe rather than risk too much, but her moves were unimpressive in comparison. She made up for it by performing a lovely aerial silks routine, complete with drops that had the audience gasping.

Just as impressive were Anastasia VI's aerial skills. She spun around the stage hanging only from her hair then suspended herself by just her neck from a 'ceremonial castration sword'.

Dangerous, yes, but so far more circus than horrors...

Little is guaranteed to divide even an open-minded audience like a series of genitalia-related tricks. Dwarf Danny hung (and swung) a bowling ball from his genitals and then - ahem - 'wore' a vacuum cleaner attachment, provoking both laughter and squeals of horror. When the band started playing Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" we were right to expect what we got - a weirdly beautiful firework display from Danny's backside...

Sword swallower Hannibal Hellmurtos made my friend cringe. Arguably the most extreme-looking of the cast, Hannibal has a huge pink Mohawk, a forked tongue, massive flesh tunnels in his ears, an abundance of tattoos and - this is what upset her - floating ribs. Without these broken bones he would be unable, we were told, to perform his impressive act. He swallowed several swords and some neon tubing before a reluctant audience member was dragged onto the stage to feel his ribs.

Ventriloquist was inspired by films 'Devil Doll' and 'The Dead of the Night' and, accordingly, the dummy was deliberately creepy. The story had him coming alive and then being inflated; the costume for the bloated dummy was grotesquely brilliant, featuring a 3-ft penis that the performer could bounce up and down on...

Circus of Horrors looked and sounded amazing; the cast seemed to be having fun with it, which made it feel inclusive and more fun for the audience. It's highly recommended as a great evening's entertainment - as long as you're not squeamish or easily offended...

For more information and tour dates go to www.circusofhorrors.co.uk

Photos c/o Circus of Horrors